Churchill Downs will offer only one Grade 1 event during its September and Fall Meets. But, even as interesting as the Grade 1 Clark Stakes is on the day after Thanksgiving, there are other races further down the class food chain worth some serious attention.

Bodexpress-Clark-CD Stakes Sked
Bodexpress captured last year’s Grade 1 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs. That older-horse race is the only Grade 1 on the track’s September or Fall Meet schedule. (Image: Coady Photography)

Those races are the track’s juvenile stakes events, the Grade 3 Iroquois and Grade 2 Pocahontas, which headline opening night for Churchill Downs’ 12-day September Meet. The two 1 1/16-mile races spotlight potential starters for next May’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

The Iroquois opens the gate for the Kentucky Derby trail, offering 10-4-2-1 qualifying points. The Pocahontas does the same for the Kentucky Oaks. Both will send their respective winners to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies as “Win and You’re In” events.

The September Meet begins under the lights on Sept. 16 and runs through Oct. 3. It features 11 stakes races worth $3.26 million in purses. After ceding the stage to nearby Keeneland for its fall meet, Churchill Downs retakes the stage on Halloween for its 21-day Fall Meet. That meet and its 11 stakes worth $3.75 million, runs through Nov. 28.

Churchill Downs is for dirt-runners only this fall

Both meets will run exclusively on Churchill Downs’ main dirt track. Track officials closed the turf course in July after installing a new $10 million turf course that will be ready for the 2022 Spring Meet.

The Pocahontas is the lone Grade 2 on the September schedule. The Iroquois is one of five Grade 3s on a list that includes the Locust Grove (Sept. 18), the Dogwood (Sept. 25), the Lukas Classic (Oct. 2), and the Ack Ack (Oct. 2).

Churchill Downs-2021 Key September Meet Stakes Races

Race Grade Distance Eligible Horses
Sept. 18 Pocahontas 2 1 1/16 miles 2-year-old fillies
Sept. 18 Locust Grove 3 1 1/16 miles 3-and-up fillies and mares
Sept. 18 Iroquois 3 1 1/16 miles 2-year-olds
Sept. 25 Dogwood 3 7 furlongs 3-year-old fillies
Oct. 2 Lukas Classic 3 1 1/8 miles 3-and-up
Oct. 2 Ack Ack 3 1 mile 3-and-up

The Dogwood, which sends 3-year-old fillies seven furlongs, often gives a preview of Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint contenders. The Ack Ack is often a prep for the Dirt Mile.

The Clark shows off talented older runners

As usual, the Clark headlines the Fall Meet. That 1 1/8-mile, Black Friday event for 3-and-up colts and horses is one of the fall’s marquee events at any track. Bodexpress finally broke through his personal ceiling, winning last year’s event. Tom’s d’Etat won the 2019 Clark as a 6-year-old.

The Fall Meet offers up its Kentucky Derby/Oaks preps, both 1 1/16-mile Grade 2s and both running on Nov. 27. For the colts, it’s the Kentucky Jockey Club, while for the fillies, it’s the Golden Rod.

Churchill Downs-2021 Key Fall Meet Stakes Races

Race Grade Distance Eligible Horses
Nov. 20 Chilukki 3 1 mile 3-and-up fillies and mares
Nov. 25 Falls City 2 1 1/8 miles 3-and-up fillies and mares
Nov. 26 Clark 1 1 1/8 miles 3-and-up
Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club 2 1 1/16 miles 2-year-olds
Nov. 27 Golden Rod 2 1 1/16 miles 2-year-old fillies

Those are two of the three Grade 2s on the meet schedule. The third is the Falls City, which sends its 3-and-up fillies and mares 1 1/8 miles on Thanksgiving Day. The lone Grade 3 is the Nov. 20 Chilukki, a mile race for 3-and-up fillies and mares.